RFI-funded projects earn $490k USDA grant for high-tech youth entrepreneurship clinics

University of Nebraska–Lincoln faculty strategically connected three projects initially funded by the Rural Futures Institute to create “Rural Youth High-Tech Entrepreneurship Clinics,” a program that has earned $493,560 in funding from the United States Department of Agricultural National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The program, which will implement clinics in six rural Nebraska communities over the next five years, works to empower rural youth to create opportunities and solutions through entrepreneurship and technology.

“I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance—a fair opportunity,” says Surin Kim, assistant professor in entrepreneurship and program director. “That’s what I like about entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship can be a way for people to create their own opportunities.

“In this program, students and local businesses in rural communities will benefit from access and training in growth-oriented business strategies as well as technology experience in coding, artificial intelligence and wearable technology.”

The program differentiates itself from other youth entrepreneurship programs combining:

Through this construct, researchers believe they can impact the overall well-being of the youth as well as the businesses the students work with and the broader community.

Kim, former senior product manager at Amazon, brought forward the the technology-based entrepreneurial framework from her RFI project Nurturing High School Entrepreneurs and Transforming Local Business Owners. In this project youth participants create and implement solutions for real-world local business challenges. Through the USDA grant, the current clinic model will expand to more actively integrate a growth-oriented mindset for students and provide more hands-on experience with developing technologies.

“It’s really cool to see what entrepreneurs have to go through and all of the hardships, and how they make mistakes and learn from them, so they know what to do in the future,” says Hannah, a current youth participant from Dunning, Neb.

Maria Rosario T. de Guzman, associate professor in youth development, serves as principal investigator of the RFI project Developing A Model for Quality of Life, which brings the youth development research element to the expanded program. Her research focuses on positive development in youth and will explore how to inspire youth connection to community.

Through the RFI project Systems Thinking for Sustainable Future, Ashu Guru, assistant professor of biological systems engineering, incorporates a framework for nurturing systems thinking in youth to help them learn how to solve complex, interconnected problems.

Claire Nicholas, Assistant professor of Textiles, Merchandising, and Fashion Design, will conduct research together to examine socio-economic development by the project in the rural communities.

“We are proud of how the communities already involved in these projects have inspired faculty to create a new, well-rounded approach to youth entrepreneurship and retention,” says Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute. “This expanded program is already receiving national attention, demonstrating once again how Nebraska and the University of Nebraska continue to serve as a model for the country in rural development.”

Criteria to select communities is initially focused on three communities that have increased net migration and three with decreasing net migration as the research element is to understand rural youth perspective of the future using high-tech entrepreneurship and then their intention to stay or return. Communities that would like to participate should visit go.unl.edu/high-tech-clinics for information.

Due to increasing demand, faculty will begin creating a train-the-trainer model within the next year once the curriculum is created and tested.

“The youth are the ones who are going to create the future in rural communities, and it is our role to create these educational opportunities,” says Kim. “The University of Nebraska really needs to continue thinking about the challenges communities face and creating strategies for current and future residents to create the life they want and the economic opportunities they desire in their rural communities.”


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